Those imagined chthonic forces

February 6, 2010 at 11:21 pm | In just_so, writing | 3 Comments

Night before last I had a most impressive nightmare. What I mean is that it left an impression.

I was driving, one car amidst a glut of traffic, along a night-time street leading into the center of town. I was on my way home. As I got closer to downtown, traffic slowed, and then stopped altogether. Impatient, I passed the cars in front of me by driving over the curb onto the sidewalk, passing on the right (illegal, but in my dreams I do what I want). However, when I got to the front of the queue, I stopped, sensing real fear.

Here’s what I saw: The road ahead lay in empty darkness, even though it was a main thoroughfare. No other cars, no traffic, no people, …no lights. Way off in the distance, there appeared to be some activity – fires? – but it was impossible to see that far ahead, and …well, the general sense of foreboding didn’t …bode well.

I didn’t want to look, but there was nothing else to look at.

Except for two guys on scooters, who emerged from the darkness as they came toward us. Their nimble scooters (which may have been electric bikes) allowed them to avoid all traffic gridlock, not that it would have mattered since they approached us from the vast oncoming emptiness of an inexplicably untrafficked main street. They said they had come to warn us, that we couldn’t continue: it wasn’t safe, they said. There were fires downtown, they said. The town was burning, they said. They gave us direction, for our safety, they said. Go this way, go that way, go back, don’t go forward, be careful, be warned, be gone, they said.

Be where?


I turned my car up a dark, unpromising side street, but I didn’t really have a vehicle anymore – this was a dream, after all, and what was there one moment dissolved in the next. Seeking safety, I entered a textiles shop, but instead of finding a kindly vendor, I saw them, the scooter-guys, surreptitiously setting fire to a set of richly brocaded curtains. I was looking at devils: fire-starters, chthonic forces that had somehow erupted out of nowhere and were now replicating themselves everywhere.

All of a sudden, being alive felt unspeakably lonely – and therefore scary. There was something really big out there, much bigger than my puny life, but it had no room for me or my comforts.

I woke up, convinced we were going to have an earthquake. (Anything to make sense of fear, I guess.)

I have to stop thinking about death, I thought. After a while, I managed to get back to sleep, that familiar, refreshing pretend-death.


For a time, one of my sisters had a mother-in-law who, sadly, actually believed in hell-fires. The anxiety crippled her. Until this particular dream, I didn’t understand how awful that might be, but I think I get it now. For just a few seconds, my dream transported me to an alternate reality where – again, just for an instant – I lost a sense of measure. That’s not the same as a sense of scale – my sense of scale was fine, it just wasn’t friendly. Scale is something you can still play with, but losing measure is what you have to worry about. I was puny beyond measure, the “otherness” was vast beyond comprehension, my sense of comfort was totally and utterly gone. To have a sense of comfort, perhaps you need to have a sense of measure: self-worth, “relationality” to other puny beings (the “l’enfer, c’est les autres” kind), and a good grip on the disparity between your big fat brain (yes!, it’s true, you have a big fat brain, you’re a genius!) and your all-too-faulty flesh-and-blood incarnation. There are no hell-fires, there are no devils on scooters (unless they’re the infamous City of Victoria parking commissionaires), and no one is setting the curtains on fire.

Oh, and we didn’t have an earthquake either…


  1. Those kinds of dreams are terrifying, and go a long way towards helping me question my feeling of logic. Since I was a child, I’ve had a recurring dream which always has the same effect. I keep waking up waiting for it to correspond with waking life, but so far it’s a pretty poor oracle.

    Comment by Cheryl — February 7, 2010 #

  2. i liked your used way to write fascinating articles.. i think, i should write like this.

    Comment by Multiwp — February 7, 2010 #

  3. When you’re a child, nightmares tend to be simpler (even though they don’t feel less scary): you’re trying to run away, but can’t; or some monster comes out of the wall at you, etc. My adult me has much more complex nightmares, but I think that’s a trick of the mind, which is trying to convince me to confuse complexity with reality. “It’s more complex, it’s more difficult – so it must be more ‘real’!” I guess the underlying emotion is the same: terror. But even though I know full well that awful things really do happen, I prefer to think of my imagined terrors as chemical imbalances in my brain! No logic, no oracles! Keeps the lid on things! 😉

    Comment by Yule — February 8, 2010 #

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